The average person hears the phrase “bone density” and immediately associates it with the “old” or elderly people. Although, the elderly are the ones that often times lack vitamin D and have diminished bone mineral density, they are not the only ones any longer. With the age of fast food, microwaveable meals, vegan trends and sun avoidance, the general population from children on up are lacking significant levels of Vitamin D and a lower bone mineral density.
To understand Vitamin and Bone Mineral Density and their relationship, you need to understand what each of them are and/or does for your body.
Vitamin D is not really a vitamin. It is a type of steroid hormone that the body makes, when the circumstances are right. When the body cannot make enough of it, it relies on outer sources of food and sunlight to supplement it. There are actually 5 types of vitamin D. D3 is what the body makes. Vitamin D helps calcium and magnesium absorb in the intestine. It helps with bone growth and boosts the immune system. The sun is vital to natural Vitamin D production. It is made in the skin from cholesterol and changed into a more dynamic form in the liver.
Bone Mineral Density
Bone Mineral Density or BMD is a test that measures mineral density (like calcium) using special scans. Physicians use this to guesstimate the strength of the bone. The best machine to test this is called a Duel Energy X Ray Absorptiometry or DEXA. DEXA shoots two beams at bones in the spine and hips. It is fast, low radiation and accurate. It can tell a 2% difference from month to month. Basically, it will tell you how brittle or compromised your bones have become.
Testing your Vitamin D levels and getting a Bone Mineral Density test will give you a good understanding of what condition your bones are in, and without change, what you can expect in the future. Vitamin D is so important to calcium absorption. Vitamin D is like a linebacker making a hole for the Calcium running back to sprint through. It leads the way and assists in making bone stronger. That is why it is such an important part of your daily diet.
It is true, that as you age, your vitamin D level drops. A lot of this has to do with mobility and with the sun/skin relationship. The sun exposure that you get, it isn’t able to be converted in the skin like it did when you were younger. Aged skin doesn’t contain the cholesterol it used to and thus produces less vitamin D. The other issue is how people slow down when they get older. Not using your bones to support your weight or working out your muscles and bones causes less and less new bone growth, which already happens when you age (it takes a lot longer to make new bone). It is like a bike left in a damp garage – it will get rusty and hard to pedal and eventually break if it isn’t used and taken care of. Your bones are the same. Doing weight bearing exercises where the bone is challenged and weight lifting encourages new bone growth.
The fear and threat of skin cancer has caused a huge reduction in the amount of sun exposure from children to adults. Parents will often be told their children have a vitamin D deficiency – a lot of that is from all the sun screen and blocking out of sun exposure all together. This is not necessary. 20 minutes of exposure to the sun without any sort of blocking , per day, is sufficient to keep vitamin D production at a decent level. It does not have to be all at once – 10 minute increments will work. Taking people out of that natural sun is causing more brittle bones and fractures – especially in children. Another natural sun blocker is melanin. Melanin is in higher concentration in people having darker skin. The darker the skin tone, the less sun absorption, thus less vitamin D production.
Another issue effecting Vitamin D and bone mineral density is today’s frequency of gastric by-pass surgery. In an effort to work on the obesity issues today, many are turning to gastric by-pass surgery. While the surgery is considered successful, one overlooked issue is the fact that it reduces the number of nutrients absorbed normally in the small intestines – two areas – Vitamin D and calcium are not absorbed in the quantities needed and brittle bones are the result.
As you age, your body will take what it needs, where it needs it. Often times does our body not only start reducing the amounts of Vitamin and calcium that it can absorb, but it starts to poach calcium directly from the bones. Now along with all the other areas associated with aging that effect the bones, the body seems to turn on itself. The importance of keeping vitamin D levels and calcium levels up is greater and greater as the years go by. Vitamin D supplements and Calcium supplements are a good way to help this as well as including more foods that contain calcium and vitamin D. A lot of foods products are adding the vitamin D and calcium pair to them, such as milk with Vitamin D or orange juice with calcium. There are a lot of foods that contain calcium but not a lot that contain Vitamin D. Salmon is a great source of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is needed to maintain and help create new bone, which in turn, increases the bone mineral density, which means less brittle, stronger bones. This is no longer just an issue for elderly people but is an increasing concern for everyone. All ages of the population need to get appropriate amounts of natural sunlight, vitamin D and calcium through foods and additional sources like Vitamin D and calcium supplements as well as weight bearing exercises. All of these will help increase the Vitamin D in your body and increase your bone mineral density.